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Section: Scientific Foundations

The embodiment of cognition

Recent theories from cognitive science stress that human cognition emerges from the interactions of the body with the world. Through motor actions, the body can orient toward objects to better perceive and analyze them. The analysis is performed on the basis of physical measurements and more or less elaborated emotional reactions of the body, generated by the stimuli. This will elicit other orientation activities of the body (approach and grasping or avoidance). This elementary behavior is made possible by the capacity, at the cerebral level, to coordinate the perceptive representation of the outer world (including the perception of the body itself) with the behavioral repertoire that it generates either on the physical body (external actions) or on a more internal aspect (emotions, motivations, decisions). In both cases, this capacity of coordination is acquired from experience and interaction with the world.

The theory of the situatedness of cognition proposes to minimize representational contents (opposite to complex and hierarchical representations) and privileges simple strategies, more directly coupling perception and action and more efficient to react quickly in the changing environment.

A key aspect of this theory of intelligence is the Gibsonian notion of affordance: perception is not a passive process and, depending on the current task, objects are discriminated as possible “tools” that could be used to act in the environment. Whereas a scene full of details can be memorized in very different and costly ways, a task-dependent description is a very economical way that implies minimal storage requirements. Hence, remembering becomes a constructive process.

For example with such a strategy, the organism can keep track of relevant visual targets in the environment by only storing the movement of the eye necessary to foveate them. We do not memorize details of the objects but we know which eye movement to perform to get them: The world itself is considered as an external memory.

Our agreement to this theory has several implications for our methodology of work. In this view, learning emerges from sensorimotor loops and a real body interacting with a real environment are important characteristics for a learning protocol. Also, in this view, the quality of memory (a flexible representation) is preferred to the quantity of memory.


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